Tanzania officials in US say lifting ivory ban would help elephants

Officials from Tanzania visited Dallas on Thursday to discuss the country’s issues with poaching, including the U.S. ban on imported ivory.

Lazaro Nyalandu, Tanzania’s minister of natural resources and tourism, and several other officials met with representatives from the Dallas Safari Club and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Thursday morning. They talked about the African nation’s efforts to curb poaching and exchanged ideas about how to stop the illegal activity.

Nyalandu was in the U.S. this week as part of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington. He said he hoped to persuade U.S. officials to lift their ban on ivory imports made earlier this year in hopes of stemming poaching. Nyalandu said removal of the ban would expand regulated hunting in the country, which in turn would help fund efforts to stop poachers.

“That ban benefits the poachers,” he said. “It only assures that more elephants will get killed.”

International demand for ivory has enticed poachers to go after elephants across Africa. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed each year across the continent for their ivory tusks, according to news reports. Several leaders, including Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, held a panel discussion at the summit to discuss the issue Monday.

Tanzania currently allows regulated hunting safaris. Such regulations in Tanzania and other African countries have drawn debate between animal rights activists and hunters about the best way to protect dwindling species of elephants, lions and rhinos, among other animals. Groups such as the Dallas Safari Club say legal hunting provides needed funding for conservation efforts in African countries.

“If you bring in regulated hunters, they might pay $50,000 to shoot that same lion,” said Dallas Safari Club president Chris Hudson, who organized the meeting.

The Dallas Safari Club became part of the debate earlier this year when it auctioned a hunt for a black rhinoceros, a species listed as endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The auction raised $350,000, but club officials said they hoped it would have raised closer to $1 million.

Officials with national animal rights organizations couldn't be reached Thursday afternoon, but in the past have criticized the Dallas Safari Club’s efforts to to use hunts to fund anti-poaching efforts.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, in an October 2013 blog post about the rhino auction, wrote: “Rather than paying to kill one of the most endangered creatures on earth, wouldn’t it be philanthropic if Safari Club members invested that money in anti-poaching efforts or in efforts to reduce demand for rhino horns?”

Pacelle also has supported the U.S. ban on ivory on his blog.

Nyalandu said he has instituted several changes to the country’s hunting laws in the last few weeks. He reduced the number of elephants that can be hunted by 50 percent and raised the age of lions that can be hunted from 4 to 6 years old.

“It’s important for America and America’s private sector to understand how far Tanzania has come,” he said.